Hiking

Lewis and Clark Trail – The Ultimate Hiking Guide

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While the PCT, AT and CDT crossed the country from north to south, the Lewis and Clark Trail takes a horizontal approach. Following the path of Lewis and Clark’s expedition and preparatory voyages of 1804-1806, the trail runs from Pittsburgh to the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon.

Unlike more traditional long trails, however, you cannot hike the Lewis and Clark Trail from end to end unless you are prepared for a lot of road walking. Much of the route follows busy freeways and highways. Once you get further west, however, the opportunities for hiking, rafting, and day hiking increase. Read on for the best hiking sections of this historic path.

a Lewis and Clark Trail sign in Oregon (Photo: Wesley Hitt/RF Photographer’s Choice via Getty Images)

The 4,900-mile National Historic Trail follows both the arrival and departure paths of Lewis and Clark, as well as the preparatory journeys they undertook to prepare to set out west. It takes most hikers three or four weeks and passes through 15 native reservations (and the historic territories of about 30 tribes) and dozens of historic sites along the way. For most of the journey, the expedition was guided by Sacagawea, a Lemhi Shoshone woman whose knowledge of the landscape, plants and local languages ​​was key to the success of the discovery body; she was the only woman on the expedition and was then only 16 (and despite her critical contributions, she was not paid at all, while her husband, the much older Toussaint Charbonneau, received $500).

The Lewis and Clark Trail begins at Point State Park in Pittsburgh, the headwaters of the Ohio River. It follows Ohio for several hundred miles, passing through cities, national forests and national recreation areas. After reaching the Rockies, the trail ascends into the Alps, passing through passes on the west side of the continent and a new waterway to follow: the Columbia River. Just like the Explorers, the trail follows the Columbia to the sea, where the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is perched on the coast at Cape Disappointment. (Don’t let the name fool you: it really is beautiful.)

The Seven Best Hikes on the Lewis and Clark Trail

Although much of the route is currently on roads, there are sections that can be hiked. Walk, paddle and backpack in the centuries-old footsteps of these seven hikes and paddles.

backwater trailPonca State Park, NE

This 4-mile round trip wanders through cottonwood forest, oxbows, and tallgrass prairie in the Missouri River lowlands, the same ones traversed by the Corps of Discovery en route to the Where is. The 580 acres bordering the river this trail crosses were donated to the park in 1999 by the Conservation Fund.

Springs Trail, Missouri Springs State ParkMT

Climb a bluff above the river with views of the water, meadows, and surrounding mountains on the 1.6-mile Headwaters Trail. A series of interpretive plaques along the way tell you the history of the area, especially the Lewis and Clark Expedition as it passed. Unlike many trails in Montana, this one is accessible year-round.

Snake River Trail, Hell’s Gate State ParkIDENTIFIER

Set in a river bottom left by Ice Age flooding 15,000 years ago and lined with basalt columns formed by a 14 million year old lava flow, this park is home to a history far older than Lewis and Clark. Learn about natural history on the 10km Snake River Loop Trail, which climbs through grassy bluffs to impressive columnar basalt cliffs, then head to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center to learn more about the more recent past.

North Head Trail, Cape Disappointment State ParkWA

Cape Deception Lighthouse
Cape Deception Lighthouse (Photo: David_Johnson/iStock via Getty Images)

Hike from a lighthouse overlooking the Pacific through coastal forest to the beach on this 4-mile round trip. Much of the trail descends wooden stairs and boardwalks over moist forest floor before reaching the gravel and sand beach. Not ready to finish your hike by the water? Cross the road to the Mackenzie Head Trail and explore an abandoned WWII gun battery.

Katy Trail, Katy Trail State ParkMO

Choose your favorite stretch – or hike or bike – on this 240-mile rail trail, the longest in the country. There are 26 trailheads along the trail, but the section between Cooper County and St. Charles County is officially designated as part of the Lewis and Clark Trail. The 114-mile section offers accommodations in several towns along the way, separated by reasonable daily distances. Some, like Defiance and Augusta, offer camping, while others are limited to hotels.

Lolo TrailMT

Lewis and Clark described this route through the Bitterroot Mountains as the hardest part of their journey; it took them 11 days to go and 15 days to return. Modern hikers have it easier. The primitive 119-mile route known as the Lolo Highway parallels in places by several different trails, as well as being a pleasant walking route in its own right, and campsites established along the way take the mystery out of finding a place to sleep out of the equation. A series of lookouts and historic cabins along the way are also bookable for overnight stays.

Float the Missouri River Breaks National Monument, MT

Canoeing Breaks
Canoeing Breaks (Photo: Joe Parke/500px via Getty Images)

Rent a canoe in Fort Benton for a three-day float to Judith Landing on the wild Missouri. After launching your ship (Missouri River Outfitters will rent you the boat and transport your car to the take-out site), head to the Missouri River Breaks and the White Cliffs region, where pale sandstone formations rise hundreds of feet above above the river. Eagle Creek, Hole in the Wall, and Slaughter River are the best waterfront campsites accessible to boaters.

Equipment for the Lewis and Clark trail

The Lewis and Clark Trail passes through nearly every ecosystem in the northern United States, so you’ll need to be prepared for anything. Good rain gear, absorbent layers that will adapt to hot days while keeping you warm in the cold, and an insulated jacket for cold nights and mountain crossings are essential. If you’re going to take the river route through some of the Dakotas and Montana, bring water shoes and paddling gear, and arrange rental or local transport for your own boat.

permit

Very few sections of the Lewis and Clark Trail require a permit, as most are in National Forest land or along urban areas, but check the official trail Maps for any land management agencies that may require permits or reservations.

When to Hike the Lewis and Clark Trail

Summer has the best weather and least snow on the mountain passes, making it the best season to hike the trails. Start just after spring or early fall for cooler walking days, or choose July or August for the best chance of sunny days and the least chance of blizzards.

Where to stay on the Lewis and Clark Trail

Along much of the Lewis and Clark trail, camping can be hard to find. Until you reach the Dakotas, most accommodations along the route are hotels of various levels – bed and breakfasts, roadside motels, and bed and breakfasts. Choose your accommodation budget and book accordingly, leaving a small cushion for emergency hotel stays in bad weather.